Tag Archives | Science Fiction

Dialectical Utopianism: Who Said This?

There is no such thing as a pocket utopia.

Consider the French aristocracy before the revolution – well fed, well clothed, well housed, well educated – brilliant lives. One could say they lived in a little utopia of their own. But we don’t say that, because we know their lives rested on a base of human misery, peasants toiling in ignorance and suffering. And we think of the French aristocracy as parasites, brutal, stupid, tyrannical.

But now the world is a single economy. Global village, made in Thailand! And we stand on little islands of luxury, while the rest – great oceans of abject misery, bitter war, endless hunger. We say, But they are none of our affair! We have our island. …

What a cheat utopias are, no wonder people hate them. Engineer some fresh start, an island, a new continent, dispossess them, give them a new planet sure! So they don’t have to deal with our history. Ever since More they’ve been doing it: rupture, clean cut, fresh start.

So the utopias in books are pocket utopias too. Ahistorical, static, why should we read them? They don’t speak to us trapped in this world as we are, we look at them in the same way we look at the pretty inside of a paperweight, snow drifting down, so what? It may be nice but we’re stuck here and no one’s going to give us a fresh start, we have to deal with history as it stands, no freer than a wedge in a crack. …

Must redefine utopia. It isn’t the perfect end-product of our wishes, define it so and it deserves the scorn of those who sneer when they hear the word. No. Utopia is the process of making a better world, the name for one path history can take, a dynamic, tumultuous, agonizing process, with no end. Struggle forever. … Utopia is when our lives matter. …

I grew up in utopia, I did. California when I was a child was a child’s paradise, I was healthy, well fed, well clothed, well housed, I went to school and there were libraries with all the world in them and after school I played in orange groves and in Little League and in the band and down at the beach and every day was an adventure, and when I came home my mother and father created a home as solid as rock, the world seemed solid! And it comes to this, do you understand me – I grew up in utopia.

But I didn’t. Not really. Because while I was growing up in my sunny seaside home much of the world was in misery, hungry, sick, living in cardboard shacks, killed by soldiers or their own police. I had been on an island. In a pocket utopia. It was the childhood of someone born into the aristocracy, and understanding that I understood the memory of my childhood differently; but still I know what it was like, I lived it and I know! And everyone should get to know that, not in the particulars, of course, but in the general outline, in the blessing of a happy childhood, in the lifelong sense of security and health.

So I am going to work for that. And if – if! if someday the whole world reaches utopia, then that dream California will become a precursor, a sign of things to come, and my childhood is redeemed. I may never know which it will be, it might not be clear until after we’re dead, but the future will judge us! They will look back and judge us, as aristocrats’ refuge or emerging utopia, and I want utopia, I want that redemption and so I’m going to stay here and fight for it, because I was there and I lived it and I know.

Guess the author.


With Oceans of Clouds in the Sky and in Me

The novel’s protagonist is an idealistic architect, described as having “a long face with high pronounced cheekbones, and pale blue eyes” – also long arms, unruly light-coloured hair, and a “loose gangly walk.”

The architect has strong architectural principles that are often at odds with those of his clients. He hates “tiny white-walled rooms with cottage cheese ceilings,” and feels compelled to “blast some space and light into them.” He sees “homes as organisms …. a work of art that you live in. If you live in a work of art, it does something to you. … It gives you a good feeling.”

The architect protagonist has a mentor, an aging, eccentric, somewhat cantankerous father figure from whom he inherits a difficult struggle against powerful social forces.

Another burden the protagonist has to endure is seeing the woman he loves in a relationship with a charismatic, unscrupulous, power-driven man he regards as his worst enemy.

The novel’s climax involves a development project of which the architect disapproves, and which he undertakes to sabotage.

The novel begins with the architect laughing, up in the hills, surrounded by nature, and walking down to the town where he lives. It ends with his solitary figure against a background of sky and sea.

The novel is not, even remotely, The Fountainhead.


Look How the Floor of Heaven Is Thick Inlaid

Random anecdote of the day:

When I was living in Hanover NH as a high school student (1977-1981), I ate frequently at Lou’s Restaurant on Main Street. At that time Lou’s had some very distinctive ceiling light fixtures. Judging from recent photos, they’ve since been replaced by more ordinary-looking ones (though I’m happy to see that the restaurant itself still exists, albeit under new ownership), but I managed to track down some photos of the original light fixtures, which apparently were around both well before and well after my time:

In those days I was writing a lengthy comic-book series (I’d started it at age 13 and was actually still working on it at age 28, though I’ve never since had time to return to it), and these light fixtures (or perhaps more precisely the shadows they cast, though the photos don’t show that) struck me as cool and eerie and alien-looking, and so they ended up in my comic, transformed into spaceships – specifically, the gigantic baseships of the evil Dantean Empire, which looked like this:

(The size ratio of the top part to the bottom part tended to vary a bit over time.)

I also made a three-minute animated film based on the comic for a high school film class, but I somehow never ended up with a copy of the film, and only the first half of it came out anyway. I still have all the drawings for it though, packed away somewhere.


A Sound of Dreadful Speech

Last night I saw the new Thor/Valkyrie team-up movie (though for some reason they’re calling it Men in Black: International).

Nothing great (and I saw the main plot twist coming a mile away), but it was fun.

A peeve: it’s annoying when the staff workers enter the theatre during the credits and talk loudly and use their phones etc. while they’re waiting for the credits to end and for the few remaining viewers to leave. I realise they’re impatient to clean up and go home; but I paid for the movie and would kind of like to see all of it. And shouldn’t the ban on talking and cell phone use during the movie apply as much to them as to the audience?


By the Time I Get to Phoenix

The X-Men movie series has too many continuity failures to count here, but one claimed failure I don’t think is actually one.

I’ve seen people online complaining that it’s inconsistent for Jean Grey’s powers to have manifested in the shape of a phoenix back in Age of Apocalypse when she didn’t get infected with the Phoenix Force until Dark Phoenix.

But I think this complaint comes from viewing the films through the lens of the comics. In Dark Phoenix, the force that infects Jean is never called the Phoenix Force, nor is it shown taking the shape of a phoenix prior to its encounter with Jean. So the phoenix aspect, in the films, seems to come entirely from Jean, and is something awakened or triggered by, rather than contributed by, the force that infects her. FWIW, that’s also more or less consistent with Last Stand, where the Phoenix Force was something innate in Jean all along and only triggered by the events of X2.

Addendum:

Just wanted to add this pic:


Pale Phoenix

“Why did you make me do that?”

“When I lose control, bad things happen … but it feels good.”

“Are you threatening me? Because that would be a bad idea.”

Those are Jean Grey’s three most memorable lines from the advance trailers for Dark Phoenix:

But none of those lines appears in the actual movie. The scenes for which they were originally intended are recognisable, but the lines are weirdly absent.

That strikes me as a serious mistake. Not just because in themselves they’re good lines, well delivered – though they are that – but because they illustrate Jean’s arc from rejecting her new powers, to being tempted by them, to reveling in them. Removing them undercuts both Jean’s character and Sophie Turner’s performance – especially since the latter two lines are the closest we get to seeing the Cool Evil Dark Phoenix most of us were probably hoping to see a great deal of in the movie.

A lot of viewers are already complaining, with some justice, that Dark Phoenix treats its title character as though she were merely a supporting character for other characters’ angst. Cutting those three lines simply compounds that problem.


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